Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Social Networking Works

It's pretty arrogant to think that folks are just out there talking about your work. You have to swallow your pride and toot your own horn. I have found facebook to be an incredibly valuable networking tool. At first, I felt a little obnoxious talking about stuff. Am I boasting? Does anyone really care? And the fact is, yes, some people think you are boasting, and yes some people care. Some folks will get tired and hide your updates, but those aren't your customers. Your customers care. Your customers want the updates, some customers are waiting for your updates, some customers will even pounce on those updates.

I love what I do, and I am proud of my work. I am just as excited to make those updates when something gets accomplished, as my customers and friends are to receive them. I have a lot of friends who run their own businesses, and I absolutely love hearing from them and learning from them as well.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Head Space

I work alone most days, so I spend a lot of time inside my head. Yesterday, I was the third studio mate to a couple of friends of mine who have aquired a huge space to live in and work in. I didn't live there, of course, but I brought all my tools and worked there rent free, of course, because I was inside my head, and also because I have a LOT of tools and the were so greatful that they could use them. It was awesome. It was nice to work with other people again, just like when I was in school...simultaneously working together on different projects while listening to headphones in my own little universe among friends and ghosts.
Last night, while I was vacuuming the school, I gave a 3 hour class on building furniture. I had about a dozen students and they were very polite and absolutely riveted. I spoke of the importance of mechanical drawings, "Your drawing is your map. Without it, how will you know how to get to your destination? If you take the time to do a good drawing with dimensions, the rest is easy...all the answers are right there. You must have a detailed mechanical drawing by our next class, or don't bother coming, because without it you will be lost and I won't be able to help you." From there we discussed the parts list, rough chop list, and the proper way to mill lumber. They learned a lot last night...I even handed out clip boards at one point, so they could be organized like me.
Then reality came slamming back into me and started asking me where this class would be, and would I be liable if someone chopped off a finger? So then I decided I probably could give this class online. Folks could watch the presentation and then use the shop at school to build their furniture. And it would be great, because they could take a break whenever they wanted to, and replay parts until it made sense, reference other parts if they needed to...awesome.
I was trying to explain all this to my husband, but he fell asleep and had the nerve to snore while I was talking. I think head time is essential for growing. It allows us to see what is possible. That being said, I need to get to work. There are tools and ghosts waiting for me. Dave Matthews will probably show up with his guitar again...talking about dreams and digging ditches. I've got places to go and I'm carrying my map.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rule #1 Stay Visible

My work is expensive, and the economy is in the pooper. It isn't fair to myself to price the work lower than my fellow craftspeople in hopes to stay afloat. That just brings everyone's value down. Plus, it makes me look like an amateur. I am a well educated woman and a fine crafter. My furniture is made well and made smartly, I definitely should not sell myself short.

So, what to do while we wait for the economy to "bounce back"? Will it ever bounce back? My most profitable year was 2003. Back then, I was a fiber artist, making colorful framed collages. Everytime I sold one, I bought a powertool. Believe it or not, I had a complete woodworking shop after 18 months. But I also had small children...which made using the shop darn near impossible. Seven years later, I am making the best work of my life, with the smallest profit ever.

I caught myself fantasizing about owning a food truck. How awesome and simple would it be to sell a $2 cup of lemonade? Or a $3 chocolate eclair using my grandma's recipe? A gourmet food truck where when parked in the right location you could make $1000 in a weekend! It just sounds so lovely...and easy.

When I turn the volume down on all these crazy ideas, I step back and ask myself, "How do I make this business work when folks just can't buy?" Stay visible. Be Seen. Let people know that you own a legitimate business. That you can design, and construct something beautiful that you can't just run to Pottery Barn and get on sale! That you have credentials. Toot your own horn-no one is going to do that for you! And be smart. Have a small ticket item to sell in the local craft shows, something that doesn't take 40 hours to make, but rather you could make 40 in a week! And show the lovely furniture beside it...

Stay visible. I could apply to as many shows as I can afford. I could accept any invitation to show anywhere even it is totally a hair salon. Just to stay visible. I can blog until my fingers cramp up, and become a facebook junkie, and maybe even tweet. I will not stop working towards kicking 2003 in the butt.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fine Furnishings Show Recap

I took the summer off. I spent my summer with my kids, enjoying hot days at the pool, trips to the zoo, and a whole lot of nothing. It has been 3 months of producing nothing and having no worries...but that doesn't mean I wasn't anxious to get back into the shop.
September 1st came and I was eager to get back to the shop. So many ideas over the long break were swirling around inside my head. I cranked out 4 pedestals in 4 weeks for the Fine Furnishings Show which took place this past weekend.
Square One Design had our own booth at the show amongst some incredible craftspeople. For 2 1/2 days we were surrounded by amazing furniture, beautiful displays, and a flurry of creative energy. It was fantasticly inspiring. Although there were not many sales, not just in our booth, but in general, it was great exposure and we will do it again.
Ryan was amazing to have along. This was the first show we have done together. When people inquired about the work, he was so quick to direct them to me. It was kind of sad that even though we were standing side by side, 99% of folks would direct their questions to Ryan, assuming the work was his alone. He was fast to correct them, letting them know that I was actually the designer and woodworker, and that his job was sanding and finishing.
I was told (and I don't know for sure if this is 100% true) that I was one of only two women woodworkers in the show. Apparently we are a very rare breed. I met, and liked very much, my woodworking sister, Dolly, from Chicago. I plan to pick her ear about what her career has been like for her as a woman in a field so obviously dominated by men. She brought it up briefly when we first met. We swapped stories about what it was like to visit a lumber yard and have to convince the whole crew of men working there, that you do, in fact, know what you are doing.
I left the show feeling proud of what I have accomplished in my first year out of the gates. I feel so fortunate to have a husband who is supportive and educated and awesome. I am inspired to try some new things and to not worry too much about making pieces that can be easily reproduced, but rather to keep making pieces that are intriguing and fresh.
A big thank you to all who came out to the show! An even bigger thank you to my new virtual buddy, Joe, (legend) who critiqued a pedestal of mine and got me thinking full circle again! Thanks to Dick Ivens for his words of encouragement, Jeff Miller for the reading assignment, Brent Budsberg for being the nicest guy we've ever met, Bruce for following our blog, and Martin for his willingness to head to the pub whenever we ask!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Big Picture

I was taking my afternoon walk the other day, when I had a vision of this awesome woodworking studio. It had tall ceilings with wooden beams running the length. White walls with huge windows near the top, and the sunlight was pouring in. Shiny cement floors, wide open shop, and workbenches galore. I worked there with my whole family. We had a nice break room with a small clean kitchen. I had my own office with windows on one side that looked out, and windows on the other that looked into the workshop where everyone was quietly working on something. I have a huge old school drafting table where I would do the design work, and a nice chair for clients to sit in and tell me what they wanted for their own homes.
We specialized in small scale production style furniture. Designs so simple, we could produce each piece like 10 at a time and sell them at shows. But designs so beautiful we wouldn't even have to work to sell them... they would just sell themselves.
My mom would do all our bookwork and run the office. Dad would produce and sell. Ryan would design, engineer, build, and finish. He would be our materials guy. I would design, build, and mill rough lumber (since that's my specialty) and come up with ingenious ways of doing things. We would teach the kids. Jude would create, produce, sand, and clean the shop. Sammy would create, and dust, and sell.
My friend Father Dan said life should be like a recipe. See the picture of what you want and just take the steps to get there. I finally see the picture.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Goings Ons

These past couple of weeks have been so full. I would like to take a moment to talk about what has been going on.

Firstly, I submitted a pedestal table into the Ozaukee County Art Show at the Cedarburg Cultural Center. It was the first piece of furniture that I have entered into any show, since my senior year of college. I was nervous, excited, anxious, hopeful, doubtful...the list goes on and on. But what happened was shocking. Someone bought the table before the show even opened. There are so many words I could use to describe I felt, but most of all, I felt grateful, elated, and vindicated.

I have recently taken a huge step back to figure out what direction to grow in as an artist. Selling that table meant that I know without a doubt that I am heading in the right direction! It was inspiring and awesome and magnificent! and I am on top of the world!

The next thing I have been working on is reinventing my Etsy store. The first time I tried this was just kind of blah. I had high hopes, but it never really went anywhere. I have decided to give it another shot, but this time look at it differently. Basically, it is a way for people to see the work, get an idea of my pricing, and contact me. Another little something for folks to check in on every once in a while.

I am trying to work harder on self promotion. If you don't tell anyone what you are doing, how else are they going to know? At first, I thought, does anyone give a rat's patoot? But now I realize, no one does unless you show it to them. So if you have time, check out the Etsy site. If you want to read about the trials and tribulations of trying to build a small business, read the blog. And if you just want to drop me a note, become my friend on facebook.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Questions and Least Temporarily

I accomplished my goal for the coffee table last week, which was to get all the tenons cut. I thought that this week I would set out to mortise the tops of the legs to hold the skirt, but that's not going to happen. My kids are out of school for spring break...I won't be getting anything done this week!

I have been thinking a great deal about moving my workshop out of the house and into either a barn (which would require moving) or renting space somewhere. In the past, I have rented space, which has its pros and cons...cost being the major drawback. But it was nice to interact with people! It is definitely quiet here at home. But if I got the tools out of the basement, the kids would have a rec room and the house might not feel so cramped. Also, the thought of bringing clients through my laundry room to get to the workshop is horrifying!

Let's talk about the ideal workshop. Ideally, it would be a shared workshop where the rent would be split and the tools shared mostly. The space would be decent enough to house all the tools and at least a couple workbenches. There could be a small room for finishing, and windows for ventilation. Other than that, what else do you need? A bathroom I suppose and a microwave. I know whose studio I am describing... but even he works at home now. Such a shame. He would have made a great studio mate!

The benefits to having the tools at home, are that when the kids go to bed, I can always run downstairs and glue something up, heat is free, rent is free, and if something needs to be fixed at the house I don't have to run across town to get my drill. That pretty much sums it up. But no one can actually see the work, unless I enter a show. I should probably leave my cave more often so I can find out where the juried shows are!

I think I may have just solved my own dilemma. I need to get out and find some more shows and get myself out there. The one thing I hate, and it's embarrassing to admit this because I owned a gallery once, is that if you show your work in a gallery, you have to price it through the roof to make it on your end. Does that make sense? If a gallery takes 35%, your cute end table just went from $175 to $275. Basically, it went from affordable to iffy. So that leaves me feeling like, instead of showing in a gallery, I would rather pay for a booth and do a show somewhere. But that means building inventory. That is exactly what I am trying to do now...but it is so hard to fight the urge to get a couple pieces out there.

I need to wrap this up. Basically, what we have figured out is to keep the studio at home, and keep building inventory for shows. Stay out of the galleries to keep the prices down. We can always rent space someday when we are famous! Ha!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Looking Ahead to Monday

It's Sunday night, and I am gearing up for another week. I am currently working on a cherry coffee table. I can't wait until it's finished!! I really think this one is going to be great! The top is just one solid slab of cherry with natural edges that run the entire length of the table. I cracked the bark off and then just used a wire brush to clean it up. I love the texture, and the rustic feel of it.

Right now, I am working on the base, and more specifically, the joinery. The base is mahogany, which is lovely to work with, and should be a bit darker than the cherry top. I think this bit of contrast will give the table a little adding sea salt to caramel. I am connecting the skirt to the legs with through mortise and tenons. Basically, you will be able to see how everything is attached from the outside of the leg...does that make sense? As I figure this blogging thing out, I will be able to add more photos and plunk them in right where I need them to help me explain things better.

Anyway, I am cutting the tenons by hand for this particular project. I saw Dick Ivens do it once in a demo for some of his students, and I was so impressed that I almost fell off my stool. I am a bit competitive, so I was determined to brush up my hand tool skills! Mahogany lends itself very well to working with hand tools, and the whole process has been slow, but very enjoyable.

So tomorrow, I will be cutting two more tenons. That is probably all I will accomplish tomorrow on the table. There is always a million mommy things to do outside of the workshop...pretty sure other moms out there can relate!

Friday, March 26, 2010


Square One Design has been evolving for almost 10 years. It began as an outlet for all of my creative endeavors. Before my children were born, I was a fiber artist working in a small studio in downtown Cedarburg. I made mostly hand stitched quilts for the first couple of years. In 2002, I opened an art gallery with a group of friends called Artpost located downtown Grafton, Wisconsin. My quilts evolved into framed collages which actually sold quite well, but I knew my passion was furniture design and woodworking, so as work would sell, I started building our workshop, purchasing one tool at a time. Artpost closed in 2007, and for the last few years, I have been raising my kids at home and figuring out who I really am as an artist again.

I graduated in 1998 from Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design with a bfa in Industrial Design. My greatest influence is the work of Steve Lacey who was my mentor and most loved instructor of all time. He was the reason I started building furniture in the first place and his all to early passing motivated me to dust off my skills and get back in the workshop.

Since my kids are now both in school full time, I have no excuse anymore. I am in my workshop most days, making tables and cutting boards and whatever else needs doing. I can honestly say I have never been happier!